Palestinian leaders occasionally warn that in the absence of a viable two-state solution, they may have to revise their demands: no longer an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel but equal, democratic rights to all, in one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas recently issued a warning that if Israel continues to enforce a reality of a single “apartheid” state, circumstances in the region will necessarily compel equal and full political rights for Palestinians. In a similar vein, Mohammed Dahlan, his political adversary, echoed this message in March, saying, "The two-state solution is an illusion, and it’s dead. [Benjamin] Netanyahu destroyed it. Let's not waste time and instead open a discussion to reach a single-state solution."
In Israel’s naivete, these threats have been dismissed as bluster rather than a concrete political strategy. And so, the call for a one-state solution has not yet become the official Palestinian policy. The threats have so far been empty, repeated but never materializing. However, the potential impact of the war with Hamas on Palestinian considerations could prove potent. Would such a shift find Israel just as shocked as it was on October 7?
Palestinian supporters of the one-state solution argue that the development of Jewish settlement in the West Bank has eliminated the possibility of establishing a clear border between the two peoples.
The expansion of Jewish settlements in the heart of the territory intended to be their state has led them to the conclusion that Israel is leading them toward annexation and consistently working to absorb these territories.
According to their approach, if the Palestinians remove their demand for an independent state and instead demand equality of rights, Western countries will be compelled to support their demand. Over time, these countries would find it difficult to justify a reality where Palestinians aren’t entitled to participate in the democratic process that determines the government responsible for their fate in Israel.
Periodic surveys conducted by Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, reveal that the one-state solution currently garners support from a third of the Palestinian population, with higher percentages of support found among the younger generation.
On the Israeli side, statements made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government ministers suggest that the war in Gaza strengthens Israel's resistance to a two-state solution and that there is no alternative political idea beyond the deepening of occupation.
The harsh response to the October 7 attack will likely strengthen Palestinian aspirations for an independent state through violent means, as without a political process, the only remaining option is the one-state solution.
Demographers debate about whether there is already demographic parity between Jews and Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Those who downplay the demographic factor argue that 2.1 million Arabs residing in Gaza’s "Hamas State" should be subtracted from the Arab population, but this argument may crumble if and when the terror organization collapses.
Netanyahu has previously said, "On the day after Hamas’ dismantlement, there must be an active IDF presence in this area. We are the ones who need to fight terrorism." Netanyahu also explained in 2003 that the Arab population demographic in Israel shouldn’t cross the 50% threshold to preserve Israel’s Jewish character. "The integration of the Arab minority into society is also a numerical question," he explained. "If it reaches 40%, the Jewish state will be gone."
Considering this, how can a flag with the Star of David and the national anthem Hatikvah reflect the identity of a bi-national state? Israel will lose its Jewish character, bringing an end to the Zionist dream.
The declaration in the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, which states that "the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people," will be exposed as empty rhetoric in a bi-national reality.
It’s enough to imagine how Jerusalem’s image would change if the city’s Arab residents decided to exercise their right to participate in municipal elections (the Jewish majority in the city has lowered over the years, now standing at 60%).
Just as the apartheid regime in South Africa collapsed under international pressure, Israel may also be forced to grant political rights to anyone living within its jurisdiction. Israel must fight fiercely against those rising against it, but it must not forget that without an initiative seeking a two-state solution, it forsakes its own future. The change in the Palestinian demand for a one-state solution is within their reach. We may soon be shocked politically just as much as we were militarily by Hamas’ attack.
- Avi Gil is a former Foreign Ministry Director-General and currently a researcher at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI).